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"I've helped more people paint their pictures in this city than Picasso," says Duminie DePorres. "Lately, I feel like Goya."
After decades as an A-list sideman for George Clinton, Public Enemy, jessica Care moore, Bad Brains' H.R., and Last Poet Umar Bin Hassan, DePorres has spent the latter half of the past decade as the go-to guitar god for Detroit techno producers. That half-decade and his son helped inspire 444, his first-ever solo record.
"My son's my light, inspiration and purpose," he says, noting that next Friday — the day after his local 444 record release show — will be a DePorres national holiday, as father and son observe the first anniversary of Michael Jackson's passing together.
Talking of 444, DePorres speaks in the measured sentences of someone who has thought a lot about what they're going to say. Like his playing, it can sound familiar, but sincere, and in that way, relevant, even resonant, at the same time. For him, life and playing are absolutely not mutually exclusive.
"Detroit's been used to this — everybody knows what it's like to be a few checks away from being in the street. You do what you can do. I'm a musician, so I'm going to fight it, doing what I do. It might not be the most beautiful sound, but it's something people can relate to that speaks to them."
Co-produced in part by Ade' Henderson-Mainor and featuring 5Ela's DJ Sicari and Slum Village's DJ Dez (a revelation here as an Airto Moreira-level percussionist), 444 features such newcomers as "Lil' David Ruffin," who sounds, as DePorres puts it, "like every great backup vocalist from the '70s and '80s. [The album] has that old-school Detroit musicians feel; it's not your Three-Buck Chuck's."
It's this all-embracing feel that gives 444's rhythm collision of techno, funk, soul and rock a serendipitous sound — and, at times, a surreal one. Check out "Mykljxn," an Aphex Twin-meets-Fender Twin homage to the King of Pop timed to the anniversary of his death, right alongside the more recognizably Joe Satriani romp of "SupaDoom," or the creamy fuzz funk of "Celebration."
It's about as Detroit a record as you can get: unclassifiable, a mixtape of the meaningful if slightly marginalized.
"This is a guitar player's record," says Henderson-Mainor, who lends his tasteful synths to the minor key "When I Last Spoke Your Name." It's the guitar's presence amid the other elements, such as MLK speeches and anthemic but wistful strings and church synths on "Uriel 444." The screaming funk keyboards — from Lynyrd Skynyrd keyboardist Peter Keys — on "The Battle of Detroit," make it such a proud and purposeful anachronism. On that note, 444 is its own testament to music, but also the musician's lifestyle. It's where, in spite of Detroit's bleak economy and how it's sometimes harder to own a car than a house, the low cost of living doesn't necessarily translate into the life of working artists. It's something DePorres is aware of, urban-blight clichés and all. But his take on it is sincere and it feels like you've heard it before; then you get the feeling it must be time to hear it again: "The record reminds you there are a lot of people blowing hard out there," he says.
As vocalist Maia Noni sings on the light-funk bounce of "Troubleblind," a song destined to be a PBS doc soundtrack in 10 years: "Detroit, wake up, open your eyes/ Near and far, we gotta mobilize."
More direct — and cosmically sloppy — is "Scarlet," where Lil' David Ruffin puts it more first-person: "A fresh start like a born-again/ I'm so high that I gotta win." A line so dope, it's narcotics synonymous.
DePorres grew up in a family that knew music as well as the business. His grandfather booked entertainment at the Idlewild Resort, the once-famous African-American vacation spot in Western Michigan, and at one point managed Al Green and Willie Tyler & Lester. Dad was a musician and kid DePorres could hook up wah-wah pedals and a Leslie guitar speaker before he learned to ride a bike. Then, in 1977, he heard Band of Gypsies and said, "This is what I want to do."
So he taught himself to play Hendrix — note for note, lick for lick. DePorres soon became a session musician-in-training.
"I was almost always playing with musicians who were better than me, mostly older folks," he says.
Music then (as now) was an antidote to what was going on around him. "We all remember Detroit in the early '80s and 'King Crack' and all the bullshit that came with it," he says, adding, as if describing a rite of passage, "I saw my first kid get cut in half by a machine gun."
At least that kid wasn't him. Instead, DePorres found himself in some strange places in the '80s, including an industrial rock group saddled with the unfortunate moniker of Some Guys Called Dave, and as a doorman at Detroit's Shelter nightclub, looking like Prince, playing like Jimi, and way over the heads of everybody.
But the Detroit club scene did have its share of fellow musicians nodding along to the techno and loose funk cuts coming out of the speakers. By '93, DePorres was managing the Hip-Hop Shop, fashion designer Maurice Malone's flagship retail store and ad hoc ground zero for the 8 Mile underground that spawned Proof, Eminem and the like. He and Amp Fiddler became the house band for Malone's "Hip-Hop Shop Presents ..." — backing local emcees, including the late, great Proof.
Then, in 1995 came "The Clinton times — Bill and George," as he puts it. All of DePorres' hobnobbing and jamming paid off with an invitation to join "the Funk Mob" of what's become known as the P-Funk All-Stars. DePorres soon moved into the Clinton "funky farm" out by Metro Airport.
"To have [Funkadelic guitar player] Michael Hampton sitting in my living room teaching me 'Cosmic Slop' — this guy whose picture I'd stared at as a kid, it was the greatest education I could have. Coming out of a studio with George Clinton, those classic all-nighters at United Sound, ..." His voice trails off. "Yeah," he adds softly.
After DePorres's stint with H.R. ("I guess we made him look good enough it got the Bad Brains back together"), Soul Clique followed, Detroit's answer to the whole band-with-a-DJ trend a decade ago, turning the formula on its ear as something of a beatbox prog-rock power trio — screaming leads, wah-wah and all. Soul Clique was followed by stints with Public Enemy's live band, collaborations with jessica Care moore and European touring with Umar Bin Hassan of the Last Poets, just one dude on a mic and another with a guitar.
Then, five years ago, the Detroit techno scene started having its own blue period, re-examining its drum-machine legacy and re-invigorating its live-band roots or, in some cases, discovering them.
The guitar, that time-honored instrument of all things rawk, has always been something of a guilty pleasure in techno: Carl Craig's pre-techno shoegazer guitar efforts; Alan Oldham having Chris Fachini play on his 1997 artist album Enginefloatreactor; and "Mad" Mike Banks — before becoming techno's Chuck D with Underground Resistance — was a prog-rock shredder. And, DePorres says, Banks apparently still is.
"We had rehearsal space at 2030 Grand River and we were cutting some tracks with Garry Shider, actually," DePorres says. "And Mike Banks had a place there, so I took Garry up to see 'im — I don't know if they'd met before or what. Mike asks to see my guitar and just starts playing, this crazy diminished scale [starts scatting]. I was like, 'Wow, I never saw that coming. ... I'm gonna go sit on my hands for a minute.'"
What's funny, DePorres says after years (and years) of playing in bands, it was actually the creative freedom of collaborating with techno producers that inspired him to finally make 444. "I had actually talked to Mike Banks about doing something with Underground Resistance, but he had me in mind for [techno-funk-rock project] Blak Presidents. So I was like, 'Oh, get in where you fit in.'"
DePorres worked on "Fight the Future," which brought him to the attention of Henderson-Mainor — producer of ghetto-tech gems like "Ass 'N Titties" — who, in the decade since his split with DJ Assault, had revisited his own artist roots. So DePorres laid tracks on Henderson-Mainor's solo record, Hol-Ade'. But it was working with techno-house producer Theo Parrish on Et Tu Brute, which DePorres calls "past-present- and future-sounding all at the same time," which really freed his mind so his guitar would follow.
"I channeled a lot of that Eddie Hazel backwards playing," DePorres says. "Theo really helped me get out of these ideas in a way I wasn't used to. A lot of the bands I'd been in were like, if it went well, it was look what we did or if it went bad it was your fault."
That freedom, DePorres says, inspired 444. "I look up and now I'm the older guy," he laughs. "But I had to go through everything I have as a musician and life — being a dad — to be comfortable enough, but also feel like I had something to say."
It's funny, because describing Juan Atkins' earliest techno, Derrick May supposedly once quipped that it sounded like George Clinton and Kraftwerk trapped in an elevator with nothing but a synthesizer. Replace the synthesizer with a guitar and fast forward 20 years, and 444 is a P-Funk sideman and a ghetto-tech producer. To which DePorres says, "Someone's got to bring Detroit together, 'cause shit's too spread out."
Duminie Duporres performs Thursday, June 24, at the record release party for 444 at Cliff Bell's (2030 Park Ave., Detroit; 313-961-2543).
Remembering Garry Shider
P-Funk guitarist and vocalist Garry Shider, best known wearing a loincloth on stage and being the voice of classics like "Cosmic Slop" and "One Nation Under a Groove," died recently at the age of 56. DePorres played alongside Shider during the mid-'90s Dope Dogs-era. Here he remembers the late, legendary Garry Shider:
"God, Garry, so many memories. He made this record Drugs, a sort of P-Funk side-project thing, and there's this song 'Strung-Out,' which is one of my all-time favorite pieces of music ever. Just timeless, soulful, cosmic truth.
"During the Dope Dogs sessions ['95] we were at United Sound and George [Clinton] and Garry was there. And suddenly, Garry starts kicking everybody out, so all the hangers-on are heading for the doors and he comes up to me, like, 'Excuse me, you have to leave. We have Eli Fontaine coming in to play.' Eli Fontaine's the guy who played the opening to 'What's Going On,' but still, I was like, 'I'm not leaving. I'm here.'
"So I'm hanging out in the lobby and he sees me still there and says, 'There's a session in the next room, maybe they have some guitar work for you in there.' And I'm just real salty at this point from the whole thing, and I go in and there's a session and I play and I just tore it up.
"So a few days later I'm in my car across the street from United Sound listening to the track. Garry comes over, and he's like, 'Sorry about the other night. What's this?' And I tell him, and next thing I know he's in my passenger seat having me play it over and over giving me tips. 'Man you gotta simplify that 'cause you gotta play that every night. Now, ya see here where you did that and then that, you coulda done that four times before you went to that part.'
"And then he actually gave me the best piece of advice I've ever heard: 'Your friends'll help you into a hole in the ground.' That's something I think about every day. I might not be making a record if I didn't have someone tell me something like that. Like I said, timeless; soulful, cosmic truth."
Hobey Echlin writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.